Saturday, December 16, 2023

Chain-Gang All-Stars hits important social topics but drags

Chain-Gang All-Stars, by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah, has gotten endless hype since its release earlier this year. Named one of the New York Times best novels of 2023, it certainly takes us into a dystopian potential near future in which the industrial prison complex has spiraled out-of-control into a horrifying combination of reality TV, Squid Games, 1984, Hunger Games, and NFL football with weapons instead of balls, helmets, and pads.

If none of those things had already happened, this book would blow my mind. People, especially those of us in the U.S., are largely numb to a world so screwed up that the one in Adjeh-Brenyah’s book borders on rote at this point. The author uses all those pop-culture references and tops them with major doses of social commentary on the state of racism and a broken prison system (that punishes rather than rehabs inmates) in the excellent non-fiction footnotes sprinkled throughout the epic story.

Another problem I have with All-Stars is that that story is a little overcooked, opting for 350 pages or so in what drags often and could easily be 100 pages shorter to make its considerable and important points.

Thurwall and Staxxx are the female lead characters who are on the same chain gang and fall in love as the world’s greatest warriors. Much of the story’s suspense arises from the inevitable national-TV death match that will occurs between the two.

This is not your book if you need a breezy beach read. If you are looking for poetic social statements, with a compelling plot, this could be for you.

3 out of 5 stars

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